Unions blast Comcast-NBC merger proposal

by John Eggerton, Broadcasting and Cable

Union representatives had plenty to say about the proposed Comcast/NBCU merger, according to a copy of their prepared testimony for Thursday's House Antitrust Committee hearing.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, which represents some Comcast employees, said the deal would likely mean "the loss of good jobs, the erosion of employee rights, and undermine living standards in the communications and media industries."

He said that given the $8 billion in new debt NBC will be taking on day one, there will be "intense pressure" to cut costs.

Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts said at earlier Hill hearings that there are no plans for widespread layoffs, pointing out that there is not much overlap in the primarily vertical transaction. In their joint testimony prepared for Thursday's hearing, Roberts and NBCU President Jeff Zucker said the deal would increase investment, since Comcast is focused "exclusively on communications and entertainment" (unlike GE), and that the deal will "preserve and create sustainable media and technology jobs in the U.S."

Cohen says the FCC and DOJ should not rely on voluntary commitments.

Jean Prewitt, president of the Independent Film & Television Alliance, said what was good for Comcast and NBCU in the merger, which she identified as cost-savings and synergies, "is not good for the American public." And she suggested that Comcast's promise of more independent programming might, instead of a field where all flowers bloom, prove to be "a walled and sparsely tended garden."

She called it one more step on the road to vertical integration in the media industry that has already reduced the opportunities for independent programming to reach the public.

IFTA views the Internet as a new opportunity to reach the public with its programming, but IFTA says that could be closed to independents as well.

Comcast has pledged to add independent programming as a voluntary condition of the deal, but Prewitt is not assuaged. "Comcast has not clearly outlined its definition of an 'independent channel,'" she said. "We do not know what percentage of its content will be truly independent. We do not have binding assurances that budgets for acquiring content will be competitive with those of the major channels."

In short, she said, the deal should not be approved without strong and enforceable conditions that insure independents have more "distribution slots."

Scheduled to testify at the hearing in addition to Cohen. Prewitt, Roberts and Zucker are Andrew Schwartzman of Media Access Project, Mark Cooper of Consumer Federation, and Marc Morial, president of the Urban League, who weighed in on the two companies earlier in the day.

article originally published at Broadcasting and Cable.

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